Which Bible versions are in church English?
Could you identify for us the different 'dialects' of English associated in your mind with the different Bible translations available?
From the standpoint of English 'dialects' I see two basic categories of English Bible versions:
- Versions which are translated into one of the standard dialects of English, that is, ordinary, good quality English spoken by people in Australia, Canada, the U.K., the U.S., etc. It is English which is recognized as good quality by a wide range of people, including those who are not so well educated as well as those who have a number of years of formal education beyond high school. The English of any Bible translated into one of these dialects can be understood by all speakers of one of these dialects. There are no jargon or speciality dialect words or syntax in such a "standard dialect" translation, by definition.
- Versions which are translated into a speciality dialect, such as street English, Cotton Patch English, rap English, church English, Biblish, etc. These translations can be understood only by a subset of speakers of standard dialects of English. Not all speakers of standard Midwest American English, for instance, can understand an English Bible written in church English. But all speakers of Midwest American English can understand a Bible written in Midwest American English.
The TEV (Good News Bible) was intentionally translated into standard American English (with an adaptation for British English).
The CEV, NCV, and GW (God's Word) are in standard English.
The NLT has a fairly high degree of standard English, but it also has more church English in it than the Living Bible from which it is a revision.
J.B. Phillips translation is written in a standard British dialect.
The Better Life Bible (see it under the Versions section in the right margin of this blog) is written in standard English. The BLB is the smoothest reading and most natural Bible translation I have ever read. I disagree with a few of the exegetical decisions of its translator, who is my longtime friend, Dan Sindlinger, a contributor to this blog. Others, however, will agree with Dan's exegetical decisions. Dan is clearly gifted at being able to express the meaning of the biblical text, as he understands it, in very smooth, ordinary, natural English. Dan's target audience for the BLB are people who are not familiar with the Bible and don't have much time to try to read and understand English Bibles which are not written in standard English.
From my study of Bible versions, and as an English editor and linguist, I conclude that all other English versions are written, to varying degrees, in non-standard English. There are different degrees to which each translation conforms to the syntax and lexicon of standard dialects of English. Hence, the NIV (and TNIV) has much more standard English in it than, say, the NASB.
Bibles written in church English, or Biblish, as it is sometimes called, by definition are not written in a standard dialect of English. Church English is a speciality dialect. It is understood by a subset of speakers of standard dialects of English, not by all speakers of a standard dialect of English. Church English imports a large amount of syntax and non-standard lexical patterns from the biblical languages. Such syntax and lexicon are not part of the syntax or lexicon of English. They are, however, part of the syntax and lexicon of those who understand and, often, speak church English.
Please note that whether or not a Bible version is written only in a standard dialect of English is not the same as whether or not that version is literal, essentially literal, or a more idiomatic (dynamic equivalent) translation. Degree of use of standard English is a different translation parameter from degree of literalness, although there is a close correlation between these two parameters. [UDATE: And degree of translation naturalness is different from translation accuracy. A translation can be natural but inaccurate. A translation can be unnatural but accurate. A translation can be both unnatural and inaccurate. The ideal translation is one which is accurate, natural, and clear.]
Please note that I am not making any value judgement about any English version when I categorize it as being written in a standard dialect of English or not. I personally prefer to read English versions which are written in standard dialects of English. Such Bibles are in my heart language and therefore I understand them better and they impact me more effectively than do Bibles not written close to the standard English dialect which I speak (West Coast American English).
There are many church people who prefer to use Bibles which are written in church English. Such Bibles sound more holy to them than Bibles written in Koine or standard English. Such Bibles seem to them more accurate than Bibles written in standard dialects. It is not for me to judge anyone as to which version of the Bible they use. I can point out the implications for use of standard or non-standard English language Bibles, and then people can decide for themselves how they will relate to these implications. Any Bible written in a non-standard dialect of English will not be very effective in evangelism, since the syntax and lexicon of that version will sound strange to those we are attempting to evangelize.
Categories: Bible versions, church English, Biblish, natural English